Keep your fiscal powder dry. Barry Eichengreen

The Protester

Protests seem to have come back into fashion in Germany. Our French neighbors can only laugh at our bourgeois revolt.

After angry pensioners went up in arms against a new railway station project in Stuttgart, Germany has been considering itself a country in revolt. The average person is protesting and – to use Camus’ words – proclaiming: “thus far and no further”. The French existentialist dedicated an entire book, The Rebel, to protesters.

The reality is that our German protests are merely the weak complaints of the prosperous, grievances that happen to be aired outside rather than being stamped in an office. Our French neighbors know far more about revolt than we do. Revolution is fundamental to the history of their republic. Revolt is either a state of being or it is not: as Camus writes, “If we do not want to escape reality, we must find our values in it.”

Balance of interests

Currently, the problem is electric power lines, which can ruin the view from some people’s homes. A good German is committed to fighting against that. But to what end? It seems as if, unfortunately, he often fails to think beyond his own interests. In 2010, French diplomat Stéphane Hessel published the essay “Time for Outrage”, in which, in the spirit of French revolts and getting out of our comfort zones, he challenges the young people of the world not to accept reality but to find new values in it. Following his argumentation, one should accept power lines when they serve the public interest.

In Germany, we urgently need to learn how to balance our own interests with those of our neighbors – and with the interests of the generations to come. This is a difficult task, as the French know all too well. “Hell,” as Sartre writes, “is other people“.

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